Following the release of our latest set of Global Digital Reports, on 27th February we hosted a panel of industry experts at our London HQ to discuss the changing digital landscape and the need-to-knows for brands looking to connect with audiences online. Our writer, Alice Doleman shares some of the key takeaways from the morning.

Our Global Digital Report, created in collaboration with Hootsuite, is an analysis of the current state of the digital landscape in 2019. Mobbie Nazir, our Chief Strategy Officer welcomed Metro UK Deputy Editor, Alex Hudson; Creative Strategy UK Lead at Snap Inc. David Norris; Global Social Media Director at LEGO Group, Eleni Karamalegkou; and our Head of Research & Insight, Paul Greenwood to discuss how brands can fully leverage the insights.

Before opening up to the panel, Nazir addressed developments in the social landscape over the past year. The report saw that online growth had increased by 9.1% from January 2018 to reach 4.39 billion users in early 2019. Putting this percentage into perspective, that’s one million new users every day.

Where rate of growth in global internet usage accelerated, the rate of growth for social media usage tell a different story, specifically in developed countries. In the UK, where the digital market is already at 95% penetration, growth in Internet use is slowing down and time spent on social is plateauing but users are still being bombarded with content. So how can brands ensure that they stand out?

Nazir sat down with our panel to provide us with some answers.

Firstly, what should brands do to capture consumers’ attention and encourage engagement?
When it comes to engagement, it is really hard. It’s about “adding value rather than eyeballs”, says Nazir, “brands need to think about their audience as a community: where do they hang out, what are they interested in?” Once this is understood it becomes a lot simpler to create valuable content that people want to share. The example of Netflix’s Narcos teaching you to ’Speak Like The Patron’ shows just how social insights help to create content that can break through a saturated market.

Our panellists agree. Greenwood says that “a maturing audience means we have to work harder to reach them. We have to get creative and understand them through social listening and focus groups”. Norris of Snap Inc. says brands should “understand the role of the platform in their [the user's] life and once we do, we know how to add value to them”.

How are brands future-proofing their social strategies to ensure relevance?
“Brands must understand how their audience’s social behaviour is evolving”, continues Nazir. Major platforms have been losing users over extended periods. According to the report, the total advertising audiences on Twitter and Snapchat have decreased by 0.7% and 14% respectively, meaning it is now imperative for brands to pay close attention to new entrants that are capable of attracting alienated audiences.

Karamalegkou explains that the LEGO Group has invested heavily on “researching audience behaviour” to ensure “we can create content and experiences in real time. In a more reactive manner.” Meaning that platforms like TikTok would be a great playground for them as a brand. Hudson, however, says businesses should “experiment quickly but not devote an entire business strategy to one aspect of social” as brands have historically been burned by jumping onto new platforms. For Norris, it’s a question of “shiny new thing versus a meaningful platform. How do you cut through and reach the people you want to reach?” Again, the answer lies in ensuring you have a deep-rooted understanding of who you’re engaging with.

Finally, what opportunity do new spaces (think messenger or stories) present?
All of our panellists acknowledge that users are spending less time in the News Feed and more time in spaces like Stories or Messenger. Brands like adidas have been able to capitalise on this. The brand was quick to hop on the Instagram Poll update, giving its followers a role in designing its new shoe. To users, the brand was paying attention to their personal opinion, leading to an increase of 267% compared to previous engagement records.

Hudson is “convinced of the power of one-to-one interactions" but says it’s all about the strategy. Start with the main social accounts but don't ignore the comments section as “the second people are speaking to someone with a blue tick, that’s when they take notice”. Karamalegkou advises that “you need to be more personal to connect with the audience in a meaningful manner. Adapt to the platform and don’t treat each [interaction] as a broadcasting experience”.

Throughout the discussion, our panellists painted a picture of a digital landscape with individuals at the forefront. Whether by harnessing the power of one-to-one interactions or searching out significant insights about your target communities, brands must learn to cut through saturated markets with content that reaches people on a more personal and meaningful level.

If you enjoyed our #GDR19 event and would like to discover how social media and digital are impacting the travel sector, sign up to the waitlist* for our Travel Social Summit on the 26th March.

*Please note, our events operate a waitlist due to high demand for attendance. If you add your name to the waitlist, one of our team will be in touch to confirm your space as soon as possible.